Becoming a mother is life-changing. The second that sweet babe is born, you cannot imagine life without them by your side. The thought of leaving them for even a brief moment is heart-wrenching. Returning to work after a short maternity leave? Forget about it.
My husband and I decided that I would return to work after our daughter was born. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but for financial reasons, returning to work made sense for us as a family. I was fortunate enough to have a 12-week maternity leave but returning to work was something I was dreading – I was just getting the hang of this motherhood thing and now, all of a sudden, I had to prepare for being away from my baby all day long. It was (and is) hard.
Part of my anxiety about returning to work revolved around breastfeeding. My breastfeeding journey hadn’t gone as planned. I was an exclusively pumping mama – pumping milk and feeding my baby with a bottle 100% of the time. My daughter received only breast milk which means I pumped a lot – sometimes 8 or 10 times a day. How was I supposed to pump enough milk during the day while juggling my duties at work? Would my supply dwindle? Would we have to supplement with formula? Going back to work was definitely an adjustment, but somehow I made it work.
Whether you exclusively pump, pump during the work day, or only pump to save up a freezer stash for a rare night out away from baby, here are a few tips and tricks to hopefully make the transition a little easier:
- Invest in a good pump. I have the Medela Pump in Style Advanced. It’s a double-electric pump meaning I can pump both breasts at the same time and I love it (as much as you can love a breast pump, anyway…).
- Consider using a hands-free pumping bra during your pumping sessions. It frees up your hands to read, eat, drink, or tend to a crying baby.
- Speaking of eating and drinking – EAT sensibly during the day and DRINK a lot of water. Pumping is hard work! I was always hungry while I was pumping and felt like I was constantly eating. Drinking enough water was not my strong suit and I noticed a drop in supply if I didn’t drink enough water during the day.
- Pump, pump and pump again. Pumping takes practice and your body has to get used to the pump. Theoretically, the more you pump, the more milk you will make.
Storing Breast Milk
- Freeze small quantities of milk in separate freezer bags. I would freeze anywhere from 3-5 ounces per bag. My daughter never drank more than 8 ounces at a time so when it was time to make a bottle, I would take out 2 bags of milk to thaw. That way, I was only thawing what was being used.
- Label your freezer bags with a date and how many ounces are in the bag. This seems like a no-brainer but in my sleep-deprived state of mind, I forgot to label a few of my bags and when I went to thaw the milk I had no idea how old it was or how many ounces were in there. Yes, I fed it to the baby anyway but the details would have been nice to know!
- Invest in a good brand of freezer bags. I can’t tell you how many times my bags would start leaking when I was thawing milk. I literally cried over spilt milk. I liked the Medela Pump & Save bags. They’re a little more expensive than generic brand bags but worth it.
Pumping at Work
- Be open about your need to pump. I work in a very small office, in a cubicle, with men for bosses. I was the first person to have a baby and go on maternity leave which meant my employer didn’t really have experience with breastfeeding mothers. Before I went on maternity leave, I gave my boss a heads-up that I would need to pump several times per day once I came back to work. I didn’t have a dedicated space to pump, so I used unoccupied offices or the conference room with a nice, big DO NOT DISTURB sign taped to the door. It wasn’t the most glamorous set up, but it worked.
- Be prepared to store your pumped milk. My pump came with a nice little cooler and ice pack that fit four 5-ounce bottles. If I needed more space, I used the refrigerator in our office break room to store my milk, making sure to CLEARLY label my bottles!
- Use quick-clean breast pump wipes to quickly clean your pump in-between pumping sessions. These definitely came in handy so I wasn’t having to rinse and clean pump parts every 2-3 hours.
Deciding to Quit
- Slow and steady. Weaning from the pump should be treated the same as weaning naturally: easy does it. Many factors weighed in on my decision to wean after 7 months and I was nervous to “quit.” First, I started by pumping for a fewer number of minutes each time I pumped. Instead of pumping 20 minutes, I only pumped 15 minutes for a few days, then dropped to 10 minutes. After decreasing the amount of time I was pumping, I started dropping the number of pumping sessions throughout the day. I went from 5 times a day, to 4, then 3, and so on.
- Relieve any pain or engorgement. If you are experiencing pain or feel the need to express milk, pump until you feel relief, but not until you’re necessarily empty. Emptying the breast completely will tell your body to make more.
- Don’t feel guilty! This one’s hard but you have no reason to feel bad about “quitting.” Pumping, regardless of your circumstances, is no easy task. Any amount of time spent pumping should be considered an accomplishment, and you should feel proud of what you’ve done.
Breastfeeding and being a working mom is hard, but it is doable; to read more about my personal breastfeeding and pumping experience, click here. Even though I didn’t breastfeed the traditional way, these simple tips helped me feel like my breastfeeding journey was a success. If you are needing additional support or reassurance, check out the pumping page on Kelly Mom for more information. There are also several Facebook groups and online forums dedicated to pumping moms that offer tips and Q&A sessions about breastfeeding, pumping and all of the emotions that go with this crazy, beautiful process!